A waffle iron is a cooking appliance used to make waffles. It usually consists of two hinged metal plates, molded to create the honey comb pattern found on waffles. The iron is heated and batter is poured between the plates, which are then closed to bake the waffle. Historically constructed with iron plates, most modern waffle irons are made of a conductive aluminum alloy coated with a non-stick coating.
Modern waffle iron makers offer a large variety of choices. Some waffle irons can make a very thin waffle, capable of making waffle cones or Pizzelle. While there is no set standard of classification for waffle shapes or thicknesses, models that fall within the most common shapes and thicknesses are often labeled as "traditional" or "classic". Models that make thicker and/or larger pocketed waffles are often labeled as "Belgian" waffle makers. In the USA, the most commonly used determining factor of whether a waffle is a "Belgian waffle" or not is the thickness and/or pocket size, although the recipes between Belgian waffles and American waffles do differ.
Some designs "flip" the waffle iron to invert the plates after the batter is poured. This action is said to result in lighter waffles evenly baked on the top and bottom, along with producing a crisp crust and tender interior.
In 1911, General Electric produced its first electric waffle iron, with the help of Thomas J. Steckbeck (see Abbottstown, Pennsylvania) Steckbeck is credited with designing the first-of-its-kind heating elements that used a built in thermostat to prevent overheating, a common problem with early versions. With his revolutionary design and General Electric funding, the first fully electric waffle iron rolled off the assembly line July 26, 1911. Though the overall appearance of the waffle iron has changed since then, its basic design and function has remained similar.
In 1971, Oregon track coach and Nike Co-founder Bill Bowerman used his wife's waffle iron to experiment with the idea of using waffle-ironed rubber to create a new sole for footwear that would grip but be lightweight. Bowerman's design inspiration led to the introduction of the so-called "Moon Shoe" in 1972, so named because the waffle tread was said to resemble the footprints left by astronauts on the moon. Further refinement resulted in the "Waffle Trainer" in 1974, which helped fuel the explosive growth of Blue Ribbon Sports/Nike.